Skip to main content

Full text of "Folding fans in the collection of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum"

See other formats

co - co £ co 




C . 



)Shiiws S3iavaan libraries Smithsonian institution NouniusNi nvinoshiiws saiavaan 


(S> — (f) ± CO 

hsonian institution NouniusNi nvinoshiiws S3iavaan libraries Smithsonian institution 

^ co Z to z . .. CO 2 


dshiiia/s w S3 i avaan libraries Smithsonian institution noiidiiisni nvinoshj.iws </> S3 i avaan 

CO 5 „ co 5 _ ^ <" „ 5 ,._ CO 

^f^\ H #*€, " /gffixk d 


hsonian~institution NOiiniiiSNi^NviNOSHiiiAis saiavaan libraries smithsonian" j institution 

r- Z _ , Z i- Z f~ Z 



en = co _ co £ oo 

oshiiws ssiavaan libraries Smithsonian institution NouniusNi nvinoshiiws S3iavaan 

00 Z , CO z CO 

w 1 % 


^ * , 


v *1 £ 


en • ^| 







•/ *<• 


° cr 

z -j 2 *. _j — z 


2 r- Z <- , z 

— en — en — 

_ z - en z en Z, co z 

5 Xi^bsi^X >' ^-22^ 

Z 00 z en "^00 

nvinoshiiims ssiavaan libraries Smithsonian institution NouruiiSNi nvinoshiiws ssiavae 

in — en -y. \ en 

The Smithsonian 
National Museum 
of Design 

//O . o . 

*mi± ^^- 




• J p ■ 

■ y 

I- >^v N 

1 "v. ^ 

r\ --. 

_ r .-' r ^ 


■ . 

J^ - 



~~— -~ 

- ~~~~-^§^H§§jpi 








Folding Fans 

in the Collection 
of" the 

Cooper- Hewitt 

The Smithsonian 
National Museum 
ot Design 


Pleated fan, 1800-10 

England or France 

Painted paper backed with 

parchment, sticks of carved and 

pierced ivory, mother-of-pearl, 

silver, metallic spangles 

17.5 x 33.5 cm. 

Anonymous gift 


This rare example of a painted 
fan from the early nineteenth 
century depicts an allegorical 
scene from Greek mythology: 
in the center, Athena, who pro- 
tects heroes and represents 
wisdom, chastity, and victory in 
war, receives tribute from a 
kneeling virgin. An allegorical 
figure of lame blows on a horn 
while Cupid sleeps on the im- 
plements of war. The cele- 
bratory nature of the scene is 
repeated in the stick design, 
which may represent the return 
of the hero Odysseus. 

Inside front cover: 
Diderot, Denis. 

L Encyclopedic, ou Dictionnaire 
raissone des sciences, oes arts et des 
metiers. Recited de planches, sur Us 
sciences, les arts liheraux, et les 
arts ntechaniqttes, avec leur explica- 
tion. Vol. 4, plate A, "he travail 
de l'eventailliste." 
Paris: 1765 
34.5 X 22 cm. 

Gift of Mrs. George A. Kubler 

This is the final of a series of 
four plates illustrating the fan- 
making process in Diderots En- 
cyclopedie. The plate shows the 
mount being pleated and 
trimmed. The slips are illus- 
trated being inserted into 
spaces between the front and 
back leaves and then the com- 
pleted mount is shown being 
edged with a narrow band of 

© 1986 by The Smithsonian 


All rights reserved 

Library of Congress Catalog 

No. 86-72625 

ISBN: 0-910503-53-2 

Photographs by Scott Hyde 

Design by H Plus 

Typography by Trufont 

Typographers, Inc. 

Printing by Albert H. Vela Inc. 

Opposite page: 
Design for a fan guard, late 
17th century 
Probably Italy 

Pen and black ink with water- 

29 X 16.5 cm. 
Purchased with funds from 
Mrs. Edward D. Brandegee 

Note: All dimensions are in 
centimeters, with height 
preceding width. 

This handbook has been made 
possible, in part, by a grant 
from the New York State 
Council on the Arts. 



In its early history as a costume accessory in the East and later in the West, the tan served as 
a symbol of rank or status held only in the hands of the rich and powerful. By the middle of 
the eighteenth century, as less expensive fans became available, the popularity of these 
charming personal effects had spread throughout society. 

The Cooper- Hewitt has an important collection of over three hundred folding fans, fan leaves, 
and designs for tan leaves from Europe, the Orient, and America. The items in the collection 
date from the seventeenth century to the present and represent the work of painters, printers, 
lacemakers, embroiderers, and craftsmen skilled in working with- ivory, bone, horn, 
tortoiseshell, metal, and wood. 

The Museums collection of folding fans is being brought before the public for the first time 
with the appearance of this handbook and the exhibition that it accompanies. We wish to 
thank the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation tor its generosity in supporting this project. We are 
grateful as well to the New York State Council on the Arts tor help in funding this 

Lisa Taylor 


Brise fan, c. 1790 

China for the Western market 

Sticks of carved and pierced 

ivory, silk ribbon 

37 X 45 cm. 

Gilt ot Mrs. John Innes Kane 


The central shield on this Chi- 
nese fan is decorated with a 
monogram, probably that of the 
European customer who com- 
missioned it. The tip of each 
stick takes the form ol a stylized 

Throughout its history the fan has been more than an item of fashion. Early fan-shaped tools were 
used for such tasks as tanning fires, providing shade, scattering insects, and winnowing grain. In 
fact, the word fan is derived from the Latin word vanniu, a Roman tool for winnowing. The fan as 
we think of it today still has a practical function, for cooling or shading the face. Perhaps because it 
is usually held in proximity to the face, the fan has acquired social and symbolic importance as 
well. In both China and Japan, the two countries with the longest history of fan use, protocol 
dictated how, when, and by whom fans were to be used. Fans indicated rank and served as a shield 
in formal situations by screening the face and hiding emotions. 

The basic shape of the fan is related to the shape of such common natural forms as leaves and 
birds' wings; indeed, the earliest fans were probably large leaves or palm fronds. The simplest and 
oldest man-made fan is the handscreen, a tool consisting of a non-folding "screen" fashioned of 
wood, paper, leather, woven straw, or feathers, with an attached handle. Handscreens were used 
in ancient cultures in tropical and temperate zones, from Egypt and India to China, Japan, and 





Greece, and they are thought to be the predecessor of the tolding tan. The earliest known hand- 
screens in existence are two woven bamboo tans that were excavated from a second-century B.C. 
site, the Ma-wang-tui tomb, in the Hunan province of China. 


Guards ol brise tans, mid-19th 


Left to right: China, Switzerland, 

France or Austria 

Carved ivorv 

20-24 cm. 

Left to right: 

Gift ot Clarence Hoblitzelle, 

1912-10-4; Bequest of Sarah 

Cooper Hewitt, 1931-6-127; 

Gift of Mrs. Robert B. Noyes, 


The parts of a 
pleated tan 

Folding Fans: Structure and Materials 

The folding fan has a more complex structure than the handscreen. It is more compact and 
convenient to use, however, and in the Orient it had surpassed the handscreen in popularity by the 
beginning of the fifteenth century. The two major types of tolding tans are the brise fan and the 
pleated tan. Ot these two, the brise is considered to be the older. 

The word brue, French for "broken, "is used to describe a variety ot tolding objects such as screens 
and collapsible furniture. A brise fan consists of rigid sticks that fold up between outer guards 
(figure 2). A rivet fastens the sticks together at the base, and a narrow ribbon or cord connects the 
sticks at their outer perimeters and holds them in slightly overlapping positions (figure 1). 

The earliest actual archaeological evidence ot the brise fan is a twelfth-century Oriental 
example found in a Japanese temple treasury. It has been suggested that the predecessor of the 
brise fan may have been the small writing tablet that was used by court officials in China and 
Japan as early as the seventh century A.D. The tablets were made of rectangular plaques of jade, 
ivory, or wood that were held together at the base by a string threaded through a hole in each 
plaque. Court officials wore the tablets hanging from their belts and used them when they were in 
attendance to the Emperor lor jotting down notes related to their responsibilities. Because the use 
of writing tablets was restricted to court officials, they became emblems ot office. 

The pleated Ian also had its origins in the Orient, although it is unclear whether in China or 
Japan. Several legends exist attributing the invention of the pleated fan to the Japanese. The most 
popular story dates the invention to the period of the Emperor Ten-Ji (seventh century A.D.), 
when an artisan, inspired by the wings of a bat, made an object with a pleated flexible material 
stretched over rigid supports. The earliest surviving pleated fans have paper leaves and are from 
twelfth-century Japan. 

The pleated fan consists of a semi-circular band or leaf supported by a set ot sticks that are held 
together at the base by a rivet (figure 3). The leaf has pleats that allow the fan to be folded up 
accordion fashion between protective outer guards. The leaf is attached to slips, or ribs — the 
narrow upper portions ot the sticks, which are either adhered to the back ot a single leaf or 
inserted between two leaves that have been glued together to form a sandwich called a mount. 
Whether the leaf is single or double, both sides of the fan may be decorated, with the more 
important image on the front. The overall size of the fan, the number of sticks used in its 
construction, the amount of space between the sticks, the angle to which the tan can be opened, 
and the proportion ot the leaf size to the sticks have all varied over time. 

The materials and techniques used for the construction of tans have also changed along with 
styles and developments in technology. Certain materials meet the structural demands of the 
moving parts of the tan as well as providing a suitable surface for the display of craftsmanship and 
ornamentation. For instance, the mobility of the leaf requires materials that are strongyet flexible, 
and, if the fan is to be decorated, smooth-surfaced yet absorbent enough to be painted or drawn 
on. Parchment, because it has these properties, was one of the earliest materials used tor fan 
leaves, and over the years it retained its popularity for expensive, high-quality pieces. Parchment 
is made by laboriously treating the skins of animals such as calves, sheep, goats, and pigs. As tans 
became more popular and generally available, other materials were used as well, including silk 
and lace tor more elegant tans, and paper, linen, and stiffened cotton tor simpler ones. Leaves were 
decorated with paintings in transparent or opaque water colors (gouache) or, when the tech- 
nology developed, printed as a less expensive alternative. They were also embellished with 
punching and pricking, embroidery, and the application ot feathers, spangles, straw, or pieces of 
ivory and mica. Fans so decorated were skillfully pleated at the least disruptive points of the 

Stick materials are equally varied and reflect contemporary styles and technologies. Ideal stick 
materials are strong, lightweight, somewhat flexible, and fine-grained enough to be shaped in 
precise detail. Ivory, bone, mother-of-pearl, tortoiseshell, horn, wood, metal, and synthetic 
plastics have all been used for fan sticks. These materials can be carved, incised, pierced, painted, 
lacquered, and embellished with metal pins (pique), spangles, gems, or inlays of contrasting 

Pleated tan, mid-17th century 


Pen and ink on parchment, 

sticks ol incised and painted 


30.5 X M cm. 

Gift of Mrs. Max Farrand 


The least ol Belshazzar trom 
the Book ol Daniel is shown on 
the front leal. The back leal 
displays a drawing ol Rome 
that indicates points ol architec- 
tural interest. 

Ivory from elephant tusks, one of the materials best-suited for fan sticks, was available in the 
Orient where the folding fan originated. Its tradition as a precious and rare material lends itself to 
the crafting of small, luxurious objects. Besides being dense and soft enough to carve, ivory can 
easily be painted or stained with pigments. As fans became more common, bone, a less expensive 
alternative to ivory, was also fashioned into fan sticks. The best bone comes from whales, and 
although it is less dense than ivory, can be cratted in similar ways. 

Mother-of-pearl, with its natural beauty and luster, is another material that was prized tor tan 
sticks. It is extracted in relatively small pieces from the inside ot various mollusk shells and is 
usually spliced together to achieve the length of a stick or guard. Mother-of-pearl occurs in nature 
in many hues: a white pearl, an opalescent black, and a rainbow hue. Because it is somewhat 
brittle, mother-of-pearl cannot be carved as intricately as ivory 

Other materials used for fan sticks are animal horn and tortoiseshell. These materials are 
difficult to carve, but they can be molded by heat, and, in the case of translucent horn, can be 

stained to look like more expensive materials such as tortoiseshell. 

Wood was also considered suitable for fan sticks. Traditional choices included sandalwood 
(which has a pleasant aroma), bamboo, laburnum, holly, and fruitwoods, such as pear. These 
woods are fine grained and easy to carve. Wooden sticks, like those in other materials, were often 
painted, lacquered, or stained. 

Since the second half of the nineteenth century, advancing technologies have provided syn- 
thetic plastics and other man-made materials tor fan manufacture. These materials were of 
particular interest to fan-makers since they could be made to imitate natural materials such as 
ivory, tortoiseshell, and horn. 

Frequently parts of the fan were fashioned of contrasting materials that visually complemented 
and structurally reenforced the sticks and the leaves. Around the rivet, contrasting materials were 
used for thumbguards to strengthen the heavily handled head ol the Ian (figures 6 and 7), or for 
washers that were used as spacers to protect the guards from the rivet. The slips, which are the 

Design for a tan, c. 16/5 

Nicolas Loir (1624-79), France 

Etching and engraving on paper 

21.5 X 42 cm. 


Purchased in memory ol 

Mrs. John Innes Kane 

This print is from a set ol 
designs lor tans, handscreens, 
and other ornaments. The cen- 
tral medallion shows a scene 
from Greek mythology, Aphro- 
dite imploring Adonis not to 
leave on a hunting trip. 


Brise tan, c. 1710-20 

China lor the Dutch market 

Sticks of pierced and painted 

ivory, tortoiseshel! thumb 

guard, leather ribbon added 


19 X 30.5 cm. 

Gift of Miss Elizabeth 

d Hauteville Kean 


This Ian is decorated in the 
"Chinese Itnari" porcelain style. 
Iman-ware was produced in 
China for export from 1705 to 

fine, flexible extensions of the sticks, were usually made ot another, less expensive material. 


The use ot the folding fan as a personal fashion accessory in Europe seems to have developed 
around the sixteenth century, when Portugal, Spain, Italy, England, and Holland started trading 
actively with the Orient. Europeans did have an earlier version of a folding fan. From the sixth 
through the fifteenth century, the flabellum, a type ot fan with pleated leaves that opened to a tull 
360-degree circle, was used in Eastern Mediterranean Christian ritual to fan away insects during 
the consecration of the host. Over time, the breeze from the flabellum came to be associated with a 
divine presence, and this holy connection excluded the flabellum from everyday use. It was in the 
sixteenth century when luxury goods such as silks, porcelains, lacquerware, and fans were 
arriving from the Orient, that Europe was provided with the format tor the fan, the design 
inspiration, and the traditions ot practical and social usage. 

in ' 



Brise fan, 1720-25 

France or Holland 

Sticks ol painted and varnished 

ivory, tortoiseshell thumb 

guard, silk ribbon 

21.5 X 30 cm. 

Anonymous gift 


This is an example ol a Verms 
Martin Ian. The large central 
cartouche contains a scene Irom 
Greek mythology in which Bac- 
chus discovers Ariadne on the 
island ol Naxos. European and 
Oriental motils are combined 
on a diapered ground. 

At first tans were adopted primarily by royalty and aristocracy. Queen Elizabeth I of England 
was particularly fond ol them and had herself portrayed holding a rigid leather Ian in 1575. Later, 
in 1592, in another portrait, she can be seen holding a folding tan. In 1594 in France, Henry IV 
enacted a statute governing the activities ol the French Ian-makers and gilders who decorated 
lans made ol silk and animal skins. 

By the early seventeenth century, the rigid Ian was supplanted in popularity in Europe by the 
folding Ian, just as it had been in the Orient. At this time, trade with the Orient became 
increasingly active through the trading companies ol the Dutch, British, and, later, the French, 
and quantities ol Oriental lans and Ian parts, primarily sticks to be joined with European leaves, 
were imported into Europe. 

As the Ian became integrated into European lite, it reflected current European tastes in 
painting (figure A), the decorative arts, and costume. The upper classes in seventeenth-century 
France led the way in a trend towards comfort and social grace that eventually affected all ot 

Europe. As can be seen in paintings and prints of the period, the fan became an important 
accessory in this new movement. Through women like the Marquise de Rambouillet (1588-1665), 
the "salon" was established, social behavior became more refined, and social entertaining became 
part of court life. In the winter, women used fans to shield their faces from the fire around which 
they socialized. In the summer, they used fans to keep their faces cool, to keep air circulating in 
stuffy interiors, and to disperse insects and unpleasant odors. 

During the early part of the seventeenth century, most European folding tans were produced in 
Italy, one of the first countries into which the folding fan had been introduced from the Orient. 
Fans made in Italy were exported to other parts of Europe. By the end of the century, however, 
France's fan industry had surpassed that of the Italians. In 1673, the French fan industry was well 
enough established to incorporate sixty master fan-makers into the Association des Eventaillistes 
(Fan-makers Guild) under the patronage of Louis XIV. 

Although very few seventeenth-century fans are extant today, evidence ol their use survives in 
contemporary paintings and prints and in designs for fans (figure 5). These documents helped to 
spread fan styles and usage throughout Europe. Political changes also served to disseminate 
fashions among the countries of Europe. Influences from the Continent were brought to England 
by exiled aristocrats accompanying Charles II on his return to the throne in 1660. Awareness of 
Dutch culture, itself strongly influenced by French taste, grew in England with the crowning of 
William III, the Dutch Prince of Orange, as the English monarch in 1689. 

The movement of craftsmen also affected the popularity of fans. One ol the most disruptive 
political events of the seventeenth century was the revocation of the Edict ot Nantes by Louis XIV 
in 1685. The Edict, decreed in 1598 by Henry IV of France, sanctioned the existence of 
Protestantism within France. When it was revoked, French Protestants (Huguenots) fled France 
for such Protestant countries as England, Holland, parts of Germany, or other regions in which 
their religion would be tolerated. Many of the Huguenots who left France were craftsmen, 
including fan-makers. The effect of this forced emigration was to spread Ian artistry to other parts 
ot Europe. 

The popularity of fans in Europe was evidenced during the last quarter of the century by the 
ever-increasing influx of fans and fan sticks from the Orient. The volume of fans being imported 
from the Orient posed such a threat to the English fan industry that Charles II ( 1660-85) passed a 
statute placing a heavy duty on foreign fans. In 1699, twenty thousand fans with lacquer sticks 
and painted paper leaves were imported into England from China. These export Chinese tans 
were made specifically for the Western, "barbarian," market and were of a lesser quality than 
those used by the Chinese themselves. 

Oriental fan styles influenced European fan-makers, who were inspired particularly by the 
lacquered wood and carved ivory of the Orient. Toward the close of the seventeenth century, 
treatises began to be published in Europe on techniques for imitating the lacquerwork ot the East, 
and soon master lacquerers were working out of most of the major cities ot France, England, Italy, 
Germany, and Holland, decorating fan sticks, furniture, and other objects. The first European 
brise fans date trom this time. 

The influence of Chinese design reached its peak at the beginning of the eighteenth century, 
when the brise fan became popular in Europe. Early examples ot Chinese brise tans made tor the 
Western market catered to the European, and particularly the Dutch, enthusiasm for Oriental 

Pleated fan, c. 1725-40 

Probably England 

Etched and hand-colored paper 

backed with painted paper, 

sticks ot pierced and painted 


28 X 47 cm. 

Bequest ot Emily H. Chauncev 


porcelain styles (figure 6). During the period 1720 to 1740, this type ol Oriental brise Ian was 
transformed in Europe into what are called Verms Martin tans. The term refers to the varnished 
surface of these painted ivory fans, named after the four Martin brothers, the best known of the 
European inventors of a high quality varnish that served as a substitute for Oriental lacquer. The 
distinctive surface effect, achieved with carefully finished layers of paint and varnish, was used on 
furniture and many decorative objects of the period. The decoration on Verms Martin fans is 
usually divided into two sections, upper and lower, which correspond to the proportions of leaf to 
stick on a pleated fan. The upper section usually depicts a European motif, such as a Biblical or 
classical scene, and the lower portion is usually an unrelated chinoisene motif (figure 7). 

By the eighteenth century, over twenty different kinds ot craftsmen, often in different 
locations, were involved in the production of fans. There were leaf designers, leaf painters, 
printers, stick carvers, inlayers, gilders, ribbon-weavers, and assemblers. Leaves, sticks, and 
finished fans were imported and exported among the fan-producing countries of Europe, and to 



Pleated fan, c. 1730 

Holland or Germany 

Painted parchment, sticks ot 

carved and pierced ivory 

27 X 43 cm. 

Gift of Mrs. Beatrix Farrand 


The guards are carved with a 
serpentine hsh motit that com- 
plements the seafaring theme ot 
the leaf. 

some extent, America. In France, many of the specialized craftsmen were organized into different 
guilds, as were master fan-makers who assembled the fans and orchestrated the entire production 
process. The Association des Eventaillistes in France listed nearly 150 master tan-makers as 
members by the third quarter of the eighteenth century. The Worshipful Company ot Fan Makers 
in London, chartered in 1709, counted an enrollment ot over eight hundred craftsmen by 1747. In 
Sweden, the Order of the Fan was chartered in 1744 to govern fan production in that country. 
France, and particularly Paris, served as Europe s style-setter during most ot the eighteenth 
century. One indication of the great interest that the French upper classes had in the decorative 
arts was the publication in the 1750s of the EncycLopid'u edited by Denis Diderot, which featured 
annotated illustrations of numerous mechanical and artistic objects and their production methods. 
The 1765 edition describes in full detail the assembly of fans (see Inside Cover), including the use 
of a leaf-pleating mold invented in 1760 by Edouard Petit of the Paris fan-making house ot Ducrot 
& Petit. The fact that this series of plates does not describe the production and embellishment ot 


Pleated fan, c. 1740-50 

France or England 

Painted paper backed with 

plain paper, sticks of ivory with 

pique work, mother-ol-pearl 

27 X 44.5 cm. 

Gift ot Sarah Cooper Hewitt 


The leat shows a scene Irom 
Roman mythology in which 
Vertumnus seduces Pomona by 
assuming the guise ot an old 
woman. Both Pomona, holding 
a basket ot Iruit, and Vertum- 
nus are deities connected with 
fruit trees. 

the fan sticks supports the idea that the sticks were obtained from a variety ot sources, including 
the Orient (figure 11). 

The strong division of labor within the fan industry, the heavy trading of tans and their parts, 
and the rapid changes in styles during the eighteenth century make precise dating and the 
establishment of provenance for individual lans difficult. New leaves were often mounted on old 
sticks, both because sticks tended to outlast the more fragile fan leaves and in order to keep pace 
with current fashions. Craftsmen of the period advertised new fans as well as their services to 
repair and refurbish old ones. The movement of craftsmen from one country to another and the 
production of fans specifically for foreign markets further complicate accurate identification. 

To meet the huge demand for fans, large numbers ot fans and carved fan sticks continued to be 
imported by the various East Indian companies. These imported fans were sold through public 
auction, by shopkeepers, or directly to individuals who had commissioned them. The importation 
of inexpensive fans from China continued to threaten European fan-makers, who made numerous 



Pleated fan, c. 1750 

Probably Italy 

Painted parchment, sticks of 

carved and pierced ivory 

29 X 49 cm. 

Gift of Mrs. Robertson D. 



This fan is an interesting exam- 
ple of the amalgamation ot Chi- 
nese and European materials. 
The sticks and guards, carved 
with Oriental motifs, are proba- 
bly Chinese lor export, while 
the painting on the leaves was 
executed by a European artist. 

appeals, especially in England, to their governments and to the East India companies to prohibit 
or tax imported fans. Due to the popularity ol Chinese styles through the third quarter ol the 
eighteenth century, and also to make their products more competitive, European tan-makers 
began to produce fans in the style of the Chinese (chinoiserie) (figure 13). 

The eighteenth century has traditionally been considered the era in which tan use, production, 
and artistry reached their heights. The fan continued to be used as a tool, both practical and social. 
A pale complexion was fashionable and tans were employed to protect women's taces from 
redness caused by sitting near the fire or in the sun. Women kept their taces cool (and their heavily 
applied makeup intact) with fans. The lack of ventilation indoors, generally poor hygiene, and the 
discomfort of the tight-bodiced dresses of the period were all relieved by the refreshing breeze of a 
fan. Initially fans were collected only by the wealthy, but by the middle ot the eighteenth century, 
with the advent of cheaper printed fan leaves (figure 8) and plentiful imports, they became 
available to the middle class. It became essential that a well-attired woman have a complete 


Pleated fan, c. 1740-60 

England or France 

Painted parchment, sticks ol 

carved, incised, pierced, and 

painted ivory, mother-of-pearl, 

colored toil 

29 X 55 cm. 

Gift of Mrs. A. Murray Young 


The central cartouche shows 
three musicians in an interior 
setting. The musical theme is 
repeated on the sticks and 
guards with carved putti play- 
ing musical instruments. 

wardrobe of fans for different occasions, such as fancy balls, weddings, casual entertaining, and 
mourning. Along with this development came the need to know how to handle the fan correctly. 
Etiquette manuals instructed young women of good breeding on the use of the fan. Madame de 
Stael (1766-1817) pronounced, "The woman of breeding differs from others in her use of the fan. 
Even the most charming and elegant woman, if she cannot manage her fan, appears ridiculous.' 
Correct positions lor the fan in different social settings were popularized by publications in 
England, France, and Holland. 

Although there were contemporary satirical comments about a formal fan language, it is 
doubtful that an official language existed. It is more likely that personal codes were used and that a 
woman who skillfully wielded her fan could express non-verbally a full range of emotions. The fan 
really became an extension of bodv language and a useful social tool. It functioned as a shield for 
the shy or unattractive, it veiled facial expressions, and it gave women something to do with their 
hands in formal or awkward social situations. The decorative aspect of the fan not only gave it 
value, but probably turned it into a "conversation piece.' The cheaply produced engraved or 


Pleated fan, c. 1760-80 


Painted, glazed paper, sticks oi 

carved, incised, pierced, and 

painted ivory 

24 X 45.5 cm. 

Gift of Cole Porter 


etched fans that were popular among the middle classes illustrated particularly useful sub|ects tor 
conversation: current events, game rules, dance steps, tortune-telling games, calendars, maps, 
Biblical subjects, Psalms, and scenes from operas, literature, and classical mythology. 

In addition to revealing social and political interests, eighteenth-century pleated tans also 
reflected contemporary developments in painting. The fan leaf was treated as a surface on which 
to compose a miniature painting. While rigid handscreens could be made in any shape, the 
semicircular leaf of the more popular folding fan presented pictorial design restrictions. Oriental- 
inspired asymmetrical compositions with flat perspective were well suited to the shape of the fan, 
but traditional Western perspective, with foreground, middle-ground, and background, did not 
lend itself to the arched surface of the fan leaf. Earlier, in the seventeenth century, designs on 
European pleated tans had been composed as if they were being seen through a tan-shaped 
viewer, with traditional scenes arbitrarily cut off (figure 4). Another seventeenth-century com- 
positional technique had been to divide the field into three sections, using one central scene and 
two side compositions, often framed in decorative borders (figure 5). During the eighteenth 


Pleated cabriolet fan, 

c. 1760-80 


Painted parchment backed with 

painted paper, sticks of carved, 

pierced, and painted ivory 

29 X 46 cm. 

Gift of Sarah Cooper Hewitt 


In a closed position, this 
cabriolet tan has a painting ot a 
flower at the fore edge ot the 

century other ways of handling the arched field of the tan evolved. One way that appeared early in 
the century involved isolating the image in the center of the leal and simply leaving the 
surrounding areas blank (figure 10). Another approach was to push the horizon line closer to the 
top ol the fan shape, thereby lifting the middle-ground above the semicircle cut out ol the bottom 
lor the sticks. Less important parts ol the composition were placed in the foreground at the left 
and right, below the center ol action, raised as if on mounds (figures 9 and 11). Another device 
involved framing a scene with a decorative floral edging, often painted in gold, around the 
perimeter of the fan (figure 9). The secondary side images, the border designs, and the images on 
the back of the fan were usually painted by craftsmen less skilled than those who composed the 
central image on the front of the leaf. 

The decoration of the sticks of pleated fans also changed during the eighteenth century. During 
the first half of the century the generally contiguous placement ol the sticks left no gaps between 
them and therefore allowed them to be treated as a surface for continuous decoration. By 1760, 



Pleated fan, c. 1780 


Etched and hand-colored paper, 

sticks of bone 

28 X 49.5 cm. 

Gilt of the trustees ol the estate 

ot James Hazen Hyde 


The images on the front ot the 
Ian, explained in French on the 
back, satirize the separation ol 
America trom England and re- 
fer to the 1778 treaty subse- 
quently signed between 
America and France. 

however, most tan sticks had become narrower, radiating out Irom the rivet like the spokes ot a 
wheel and creating spaces between the sticks (figures 13 and 15). This sort ot stick structure is 
referred to as a ntonture MqueUtte. Another mid-eighteenth-century style is the cabriolet tan. The 
word cabriolet initially referred to a two-wheeled, one-horse carriage invented in 1755 by an 
Englishman, Josiah Childs. The spokes ot its wheels were more widely spaced than those ot 
earlier carriage wheels and were reinforced with two or more concentric rings on the spokes. This 
carriage, a very popular design with Parisians, was depicted on articles of clothing and inspired 
the cabriolet fan, which has two or more concentric leaves (figure 14). 

During the 1760s, the tripartite composition ot the tan leaf first seen in the seventeenth century 
again became popular. The pictorial subject matter was clearly separated into central and side 
images, with each image framed as a separate painting within a decorative cartouche or medallion 
(tigure 12). Typical themes of the period were Biblical and idealized pastoral, romantic, and 
domestic scenes (figure 12). The subject matter and painting styles were inspired by and 



Unmounted tan leaf, 
c. 1790-1800 
Probably Italy or France 
Painted parchment 
13 X 38 cm. 
Anonymous gift 

The central cartouche of the 
leaf contains a scene from a 
painting by Giovanni Francesco 
Barbieri (Guercino) (1591-1666) 
called, "Night with Sleep and 
Death near Her" Irom the Ca- 
sino Ludovisi in Rome. The leal 
is attributed to Elisabeth Vigee- 
LeBrun (1755-1842). 

sometimes copied directly from popular contemporary paintings by such artists as Watteau, 
Boucher, and Fragonard. Watteaus aesthetic was particularly well suited to fans. His pastoral fetej 
galantej were composed of scenes of quiet leisure-time activities, often occurring separately and 
simultaneously like the framed vignettes on fans. The sense of grace in combination with distance 
conveyed in these vignettes echoes one of the functions of the fan itself. 

During the Louis XVI period (1774-89) there was a movement away from the earlier 
embellished baroque, rococo, and chinoiserie styles, toward simpler, more classical forms. The 
earlier division of fan surfaces into three distinct medallions marked the beginning of this change. 
The leaves were often made of stiffened silk, and the medallions were bordered with metallic 

The era immediately preceding and during the French Revolution drastically changed French 
fashions and affected the fan industry throughout Europe. Due to economic upheaval, much of 
the structure of the fan-making trade was destroyed, and many of the special imported materials, 
such as ivory, were no longer available. Lacquerware, painted pastoral leaves, and other elaborate 


Pleated fan, c. 1795-1805 

Probably England 

Painted parchment, sticks of 

carved, pierced, and painted 


25.5 X 46 cm. 

Gilt of Eleanor Gamier Hewitt 


The central medallion of the leal 
depicts a woman as the allegory 
ol the art ol painting. This is a 
copy ol a wall painting by 
Angelica Kauffmann (1741- 
1807), installed in 1779 at the 
Royal Academy at Somerset 
House in London. 

decorative details disappeared in tavor of plain leaves and simple bone or wood sticks (figure 15). 
Many ol these fans had inexpensive printed leaves, which frequently carried political messages. 

After the French Revolution, the remaining decade of the eighteenth century was dominated 
by a continuing simplicity and the more reserved neoclassical aesthetic in fashion, fans, and other 
decorative arts. In Europe a style of wall decoration gained in popularity that consisted of framed 
medallions surrounded by classical motifs. This style is seen clearly in tan design as the final 
development ot the three-part leaf (figure 16). Italian classical ruins, well known to upper-class 
Europeans who made the Grand Tour during the eighteenth century, were often depicted on these 
neoclassical fans. The paintings of Angelica Kauffmann (1741-1807), a Swiss artist who worked in 
the neoclassical style, had a direct effect on tan design (figure 17). 

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, fan styles and the Ian industry were still leehng the 
etlects ot the French Revolution. Craftsmen and expensive materials were no longer available, the 
middle classes demanded cheaper fans, and the aristocracy had lost some of its economic clout. 
This resulted in much smaller and simpler tans. Contemporary social commentary connected the 



Pleated fan, c. 1810 

Silk with silk net, metallic span- 
gles, stamped metal, sticks ol 
incised horn, metallic toil 
19 X 35 cm. 
Gift of Miss Elizabeth 
d Hauteville Kean 

use of smaller lans to a new and bolder behavior among women. Madame de Genlis, in her 1818 
Dictionary of Etiquette observed, "When women were timid and blushed, they were accustomed to 
carry large lans to hide their blushes, serving at once as screen and veil: now that they blush no 
longer, and are intimidated bv nothing, they do not choose to hide their faces, and therefore carry 
but microscopic fans." By this time, painted leaves had become quite rare (see Cover). Designers 
bypassed the difficulty of composing images on the fan shape by treating the leal as a purely 
decorative surface. Small silk or gauze versions were decorated with stamped metal pieces or 
spangles, much like those that bedecked the simple muslin dresses of the time (figure 18). Brise 
tans made ol less expensive materials such as horn and bone became popular. With these, less 
skilled craftsmen were required to perform the minimal painting and drilling that replaced hand- 
carving o( the sticks (figures 20 and 21). 

The fan during this period was no longer a common, everyday accessory; contemporary 
depictions of women in casual settings rarely include the Ian. It became instead an accessory 



Unmounted fan leaf, c. 1810 


Hand-colored etching on paper, 

metallic spangles 

18x34 cm. 

Gift ol Sarah Cooper Hewitt 

and Eleanor Gamier Hewitt 


The leaf of this mourning tan is 
somberly painted in grisaille. 

whose use was limited to formal or special occasions such as court appearances, balls, or 
weddings. Women also carried fans when they were in mourning. Printed mourning fans of 
somber scenes in tones of black and gray for full mourning and violet and blue tor halt mourning 
were in use during the first half of the century (figure 19). Some fans could be used tor both stages 
of mourning, one side being appropriate for half mourning, the other tor full. 

With the restoration of the French monarchy (1814-30), however, came a nostalgia tor the 
aristocratic styles of the previous century. Costume balls such as those given by Charles X and the 
Duchesse de Berry in the late 1820s, to which eighteenth-century costumes were worn, revived 
interest in fans and sparked the production of fans in eighteenth-century styles. The small tan 
gave way to a larger tormat. 

The next fifty years of fan styles, and of the decorative arts in general, are characterized by the 
return to styles from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (figure 22) and earlier periods, 
such as the Gothic. This resulted in stylistically confused and eclectic designs. Although tans were 


Brise fan, c. 1810-20 

France, Italy, or Holland 

Sticks of drilled and painted 

bone; silk ribbon 

16 X 29 cm. 

Gift of the Misses Schuyler 


This fan is a four-way or puzzle 

fan. By opening the Ian from 

the left or the right, the ten 

central sticks can overlap two 

different ways, creating two dil- 

ferent pictures on each side lor 

a total of four images. 



."-•^" .•?•. 





Brise fan, c. 1820-30 


Sticks ot painted horn, steel 

spangles; silk ribbon 

20 X 36 cm. 

Gilt ol Sarah Cooper Hewitt 


The motifs decorating the tips 
ot the sticks reflect the Gothic 
revival ol the period. 

popular with the aristocracy and royalty (for example, Queen Victoria), the fan market in- 
creasingly iocused on the middle classes. 

Various industrial inventions facilitated the mass-production ot inexpensive fans. In 1859, 
Alphonse Baude invented a machine for cutting and carving (an sticks. A machine that stamped 
designs on sticks was also invented. Lithography, a printing process that is quicker and simpler 
than etching or engraving and therefore cheaper, became, by the middle ot the century, a common 
way of producing inexpensive fans. Many ot these lithographed leaves were printed in revival 
styles. The leaves were otten composed in three sections (as in the eighteenth century) or by 
curving the horizon line to follow the shape of the tan so that the figures radiated out at the same 
angles as the sticks below (figure 22). 

During the second half of the nineteenth century, the proliferation of new industrial inventions 
influenced both fan design and production. Numerous patents were granted for innovative 
designs, both in Europe and in the United States. In the United States, around one hundred 



Pleated fan, c. 1840 
France, probably tor the South 
American market 
Hand-colored lithograph on pa- 
per backed with parchment, 
sticks of carved and incised 
mother-ol-pearl, metallic toil, 
gold paint 
28 X 51 cm. 

Gitt ot Sarah Cooper Hewitt 

Elaborate sticks and narrow 
leaves such as those seen here 
were popular in nineteenth-cen- 
tury South America. The fig- 
ures are dressed in eighteenth- 
century costume. 

different patents for folding tans were recorded between 1866 and 1890. These designs included 
such things as pistol tans, parasol tans, opera glass tans, tube tans (figure 24), and fans made ot 
new materials such as vulcanized rubber (figure 23) and celluloid. 

The popularity of fans, their international sales, and the advent of novel designs and materials 
were further stimulated by a series ot international exhibitions, starting with the 1851 Crystal 
Palace Exhibition in London and continuing throughout the nineteenth century in Europe and 
the United States (figure 25). The proliferation of ladies' magazines and newspapers containing 
fashion plates and advertisements tor fans also helped spread tan styles during the second halt ot 
the century. With the birth of the large department store, fans became even more widely available. 
Establishments such as Tiffany and Company in New York imported fans from abroad and sold 
them in their stores. 

Beginning in the 1860s, the reopening of trade with Japan, a nation that had been in virtual 
cultural isolation since the 1630s, had a revitalizing effect on the popularity of fans. Fans were 


Folding cockade tan, 1858 

United States 

Rubber, silk ribbon 

34.5 X 24.5 cm. 

Gift of Mrs. Henry Woodward 




Folding fan, c. 1870-90 

Probably United States 

Glazed cotton, imitation 

tortoiseshell tube ol plastic 

26.5 x 16 cm. 

Gift of Miss Mary Goodrich 

Fitch Beer 


imported from Japan at a level that surpassed Chinese imports: in 1888, England and France both 
imported over two million fans. Many of the Impressionist painters had just discovered Japanese 
prints and fans, and Degas, Morisot, Pissarro, and Gauguin even made paintings in the tan shape. 
Commercial tan-painting began to be considered an art form and tan painters signed their work, 
which, prior to the late nineteenth century, had happened very rarely Plain silk or paper tan 
leaves and blank brise fans were sold for amateur artists to embellish. Fans became more often the 
product of one hand; fan sticks and leaves were well matched and complementary, as opposed to 
many of the arbitrary combinations seen in eighteenth-century tans. 

One of the most important changes in European fan design resulted from the introduction of 
Japanese leaf composition. European and American hand-painted tans of the period, usually 
large and often signed, clearly exhibit the Japanese influence: an elevated viewpoint, eliminating 
most of the sky; a flattening of perspective; and relatively arbitrary and asymmetrical composi- 
tions, utilizing flat, blank spaces (figure 26). 



Brise fan, 1873 

Sticks ol wood with chro- 
molithograph on paper, silk 

22 X 38.5 cm. 

Gift of Mrs. James O. Green 

This fan is a souvenir trom an 
international exposition held in 
Vienna in 1873. 

The last years of' the nineteenth century were dominated by the continuing popularity of lace 
fans, feather fans, and a revival of the smaller gauze and spangled fans. Their diaphanous quality 
indicates that the fans of this period had less of a practical function, either in creating a breeze or as 

a social screen. 

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Paris was still considered to be the capital of fan 
fashion. In 1902, eighty-two fan-makers were active in Paris, many with their own commercial 
houses. The most famous of the Parisian fan houses of the late nineteenth and early twentieth 
centuries was Duvelleroy, whose fans were sought after and were widely copied (figure 27). The 
fan houses introduced new collections every year, in the popular styles of the time, such as art 
nouveau and, later, art deco. Lace fans, feather fans, and sequined fans continued to be seen and 
were adapted to current design tastes. 

Shortly before World War I, the printed fan became popular as an advertising medium. The 
twentieth-century printed advertising fan perhaps has its origins in the printed fans of the 

^ AV..- 1 * 


r A 


L \ 




Pleated fan, c. 1870-80 


Signed, Albert-d'apres F. 


Painted and plain silk, sticks of 


30.5 X 56 cm. 

Bequest of Sarah Cooper 



eighteenth century that illustrated current events and topics of contemporary interest. Both the 
eighteenth- and the twentieth-century versions can be seen as excellent mirrors of their times. 
Twentieth-century advertising fans were made for resorts, restaurants, and hotels, and lor 
manufacturers of cigarettes, beverages, and perfumes, in the graphic styles ol the period. 

Alter World War 1, changes occurred in Western society that affected the functional role of the 
fan, both as a practical and as a social tool. By this time, houses could be cooled mechanically, 
women s clothing was more comfortable, and fireplaces were no longer a necessary part ot every 
interior. The cooling and protecting functions of the fan were outmoded. On a social level, women 
became more emancipated and could express themselves in a straight-forward manner without 
demurring behind a fan. The inviting yet forbidding role ot the fan in social settings was no longer 
appropriate. Women's hands were occupied with purses, cigarettes, and cocktail glasses. 

Without a real function, the popularity ot the folding fan as a personal fashion accessory waned 
in most of Europe and the United States. During the last years that fans were still in fashion in the 



Pleated fan, c. 1901 


Cotton needle lace on silk net, 

sticks of tortoiseshell, steel 


30.5 X 42 cm. 

Gift of Mrs. Max Farrand 


This unsigned fan is probably 
an imitation of a very popular 
design by Duvelleroy that was 
first introduced in 1901. 

West, ending around 1930, the separation of function from fashion was almost complete. Most of 
the fans of this period were made of one or more large feathers and served merely as props tor 
evening dress, the theater, or royal ceremonies. Just as the symbolic meanings attached to ancient 
fans were an outgrowth of their role as simple tools, the fashionable embellishment of folding fans 
seems to have been based on their practical role in society. 

Today, folding fans are only in use in those settings where they still have a functional or social 
purpose, such as in hot climates where air conditioning is not in general use, for advertising, as 
souvenirs, in ceremonial court settings, or in countries such as China, Japan, and Spain, where 
the use of the fan as a social screen remains a tradition. 

Lucy A. Commoner 

Selected Reading List 

Advertising poster, c. 1898 

United States 

Chromolithograph on paper 

49.5 X 38 cm. 

Gift ol Harvey Smith 


Alexander, Helene. Fans. London: B. T. Batsford, Ltd., 1984. 

Armstrong, Nancy. The Book of Faru . Surrey, England: Colour Library International Ltd., 1978. 

Bennett, Anna G. Fans in Fashion. San Francisco: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1981. 

Dorrington-Ward, Carol, ed. Fans from the East. New York: Viking Press, 1978. 

Musee de la Mode et du Costume. L'Eventail: Miroir de la belle epoque. Paris: Paris-Musees et 

Societe de l'Histoire du Costume, 1985. 

Fan Guild of Boston. Fan Leaves. Boston: Fan Guild ol Boston, 1961. 

Florv, M. A. A Bool: about Fans: A Hiitory of Fans and Fan-painting . New York: Macmillan & Co., 


Gostelow, Mary The Fan. Dublin: Gill & MacMillan, Ltd., 1976. 

De Vere, Bertha Green. Fans Over the Ages: A Collectors Guide. New York: A. S. Barnes & Co., 1979. 

Courts, Herbert. The Indispensable Fan: The Story of the Fan in Society. Edinburgh: Edinburgh City 

Art Centre, 1984. 

Mayer, Carol E. Fans. Vancouver, B.C.: Vancouver Museum, 1983. 

Mayor, Susan. Collecting Fans. New York: Mayflower Books, Inc., 1980. 

Percival, Maclver. The Fan Book. New York: Frederick A. Stokes Co., 1921. 

Rhead, G. Wooliscroft. Hiitory of the Fan. London: Kegan, Paul, Trubner & Co., Ltd., 1910. 

DeJong, M. C. Waaiers d mode 18e eeuw tot heden. The Hague: Dutch Costume Museum, c. 1980. 


Cartoon, c. 1895 

Henry W. McVickar 

United States 

Pen and brush, black ink on 


39.5 X 52.5 cm. 

Bequest of Erskine Hewitt 



3 9088 00074 626 3 

s ^t&zw 5 

u> — v> — U> — V) — 

vjvinoshiiws saiavyan libraries Smithsonian institution NouniiiSNi nvinoshhws S3iyvyan li 

CO Z , W Z . co 2 W 2 

I Jwfe s o^k I leal s -^& i JPp s IfPll » ,#^ 8 


*k 1 /#% 1 /#% 1 \% I /#% I <#% 1 4fe. I P ™ f 

Z _J Z 

winoshiiws S3iavaan libraries Smithsonian institution NouniiiSNi nvinoshiiws ssiyvyan Li 

z r- z r- Z r- z 


c/> — co i: to \ z co 

z .., co 



\jviN0SHjLiws ( "s3iyvyan libraries Smithsonian institution NouniiiSNi NviN0SHiiws to s3iyvyan"~ 

CO ^ CO ^ _ CO — _ to 

co — co — to ir. co 

nvinoshiiws S3iyvyan libraries Smithsonian institution NouniiiSNi nvinoshiiws ssiyvyan li 

to Z , CO Z - CO Z CO z 





— co 5 CO — to CO 







V\W to \ 


a, £ co f: co co 


co z w j. Z ■■» ^2 ^ z ' w 


- * "w § IMP' t 

"'ss i avaa n\i brar i es^smithsonian ^institution %oiiniiiSNi_NviNOSHims^s3 i ava a n_u 

c ||L JJf) * «& 3«) c V^IP ' 

z _i z 


CO ? ^^ CO X 5 \i!JS-" ^ Z to = 

nvinoshiiws S3iavaan libraries Smithsonian institution NoiiniusNi nvinoshiiws S3iavaan li 

CO Z ..-. CO z CO z to z 

«k X co isifM. <£L ISfe 3b) £ €«.J<M( x 

^ t 


z co X z CO * - z ' CO 

smithsonian_institution NoiiniiiSNi_NviNOSHiiws S3 i a va a n_ L ' B R A R ] es^smithsonian_institution^nc 

<g^s^y o \S*oi7 _ w^ o 


) _ co — to ± co 





co =: ^ ^^--^ z 


*%a^ "